We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

I say let the Nazis speak. There is no evidence that the alt-right’s propagandists can turn impressionable YouTube viewers into deranged mass-shooters. We have little to fear from open debate. Let the Nazis preach white separatism and white supremacy. Let them deny the Holocaust. Let everybody see how full of shit they are. Let them openly sell a product nobody wants. These ideas have been around for decades, and few people are persuaded by them. There is significant reason to believe that Twilight Sparkle will prevail over the alt-right in the marketplace of ideas.

Daniel Friedman

Samizdata quote of the day

One of the least-read but most important sections of Nineteen Eighty-Four is the appendix which outlines ‘The principles of Newspeak’ – how the regime rewrote and redefined the English language to suit its ends.

Take the priceless word ‘free’. This word, writes Orwell, ‘still existed in Newspeak, but could only be used in such statements as “The dog is free from lice” or “This field is free from weeds.” It could not be used in its old sense of “politically free” or “intellectually free”, since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts.’

That redefinition of free to mean the restrictive ‘freedom from’ rather than the liberating ‘freedom to’ is a feature of modern political discourse. A few years ago, when the UK authorities were pushing for the ban on smoking in public places, I wrote about the public-health crusaders’ new slogan ‘smokefree’ as a classic example of Orwell’s Newspeak – a made-up word that turns the concept of freedom into a real denial of the freedom to smoke. A ban on public smoking might be good for public health, I noted then, but the twisting of language being used to justify it would prove unhealthy for public debate.

Mick Hume

Why is Russia trying to influence other countries’ elections by means of targeted advertising wrong?

“Nick Clegg denies misuse of Facebook influenced Brexit vote”, reports the Guardian.

Umm, okay. A lot of people are saying “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”.

Sir Nick Clegg, for those readers who have forgotten this rather forgettable chap, used to be leader of the Liberal Democrats and was Deputy Prime Minister for a while, back when the Lib Dems were in coalition with the Conservatives. He lost his seat in the 2017 election, which made him sad. Then he got a “communications” job with Facebook at a salary that probably made him feel better.

So nine years after Cleggmania, here he is back on our TV screens again. The Times report on the same story says,

The former Liberal Democrat leader said that social media could not be blamed for the vote to leave the European Union.

He said: “Much though I understand why people want to reduce that eruption in British politics to some kind of plot or conspiracy — or some use of new social media through opaque means — I’m afraid the roots to British Euroscepticism go very, very deep.”

Sir Nick added: “Yes, Facebook has a heavy responsibility to protect the integrity of elections from outside interference. I also think we have a duty to explain fact from some of the allegations that have been made.”

Calling for greater regulation of the internet, he said: “We forget that though these companies are huge and affect every aspect of our lives — our social lives, our business lives — nonetheless it has all happened in such a short period of time.

It is no surprise to find Nick Clegg “calling for “greater regulation of the internet”. Not only was more regulation of corporations his schtick when he was a politico, it also suits his current employers very well. Facebook can buy another twenty floors of lawyers whenever it needs them; struggling new startups cannot.

But to hear such a lifelong Europhile admit that the roots of British Euroscepticism go deep was a surprise. He is right. Russia’s puny efforts to interfere in the EU referendum were the equivalent of the eternally slandered King Canute calling the tide forward.

But in all this debate about how effective or ineffective Russia’s “outside interference” in the referendum was I have not yet heard a convincing explanation of what exactly is wrong with “outside interference” anyway.

I need not list the real crimes – waging unjust wars, murders, domestic repression – that can be laid at Putin’s door. On an infinitely smaller scale, making use of harvested data that people did not agree to make available is a bad if commonplace thing. But what is bad in principle about Russia trying to persuade British people to vote a particular way by advertising? Where did this idea come from that only British ideas are allowed to enter British brains during an election or referendum campaign? In a democracy you are allowed to vote on any criteria you like. You can vote for a candidate because you carefully researched his or her voting record and found that it best aligned with your political beliefs, or because your family has always voted for the Reds or the Blues, or because you think the candidate has nice eyes, or because your imam told you which way to vote, or because Vladimir Putin did. They all count equally. If we were to operate a system of Juche when it comes to political thought, would that not also exclude political ideas originating in the European Union?

The choice before us

The weekend papers have been dominated by the story of how Boris Johnson and his partner had a screaming row. Their neighbours called the police (defensible, possibly admirable), recorded the row (defensible – it might be required for evidence later)… and sold the recording to the Guardian.

The Times reports,

Revealed — the neighbours who taped Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’s quarrel

The neighbours who called police about a row between Boris Johnson and his partner are Tom Penn and Eve Leigh, a left-wing dramatist who boasted only a few days before that she had “given the finger” to the former foreign secretary.

Penn, who broke cover after questions from The Sunday Times, voted against Brexit but insisted last night that he and his wife had not acted because of politics. He said they felt “frightened and concerned for the welfare of those involved”. Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds, was heard screaming, “Get off me” and “Get out of my flat.”

Penn said: “With my wife, [I] agreed that we should check on our neighbours. I knocked three times at their front door, but there was no response. I went back upstairs into my flat, and we agreed that we should call the police.”

However, he admitted that even after officers called back “to let us know that nobody was harmed”, the couple decided to pass a recording they had made of the incident to The Guardian newspaper.

Penn said: “I felt that it was of important public interest. I believe it is reasonable for someone who is likely to become our next prime minister to be held accountable for all of their words, actions, and behaviours.”

In the Times comments to this story “savetheplanet” said,

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs.

I’m being offered a world run by Boris (fortunately lazy and delegates) or Corbyn and folk like Tom and Eve .

Not a great choice but Logic says Boris is the lesser of those evils.

“It’s about all of us”

There’s an interesting video story on the BBC website today:

Spearmint Rhino strippers fighting for the right to strip

Feminist[s] campaigners have secretly filmed at the Spearmint Rhino strip club in Sheffield. They claim the recording shows sexual acts taking place in the club, which breaks the licensing rules.

Ella, a stripper at the club, is furious with Not Buying It for secretly filming dancers naked and fears losing her job as the club may now lose their licence.

But Dr Sasha Rakoff who assisted the secret filming insists this was the only way to expose the dark side of the industry.

My immediate sympathies were with Ella, but I can see both sides. I support the right of women (indeed the right of all people) to do what they like with their own bodies. On the other hand, the Spearmint Rhino club agreed to abide by certain rules about what could be done on the premises, and it does seem to me as if the covert filming by “Not Buying It” made a good case that those rules were being broken. I did not find Ella’s argument that the investigators had misunderstood what they saw entirely convincing. And it won’t wash to say that the conditions of the club’s licence were merely another example of state repression; though it would be better if they were voluntarily entered contracts between private parties, zoning rules of that broad type would probably still exist in a libertarian utopia.

Still, I found this statement from Dr Rakoff problematic:

Feminism, kind of like the rest of society has been somewhat infected by these really neo-liberal, really dumbed down, simplistic, very selfish attitudes that it’s all about me, me, me and what I choose and if I choose something it’s my right. That’s not what feminism has ever been about, it’s about all of us. So even if these women do choose to be lap dancers, it’s not just about them, it’s about wider social attitudes which is breeding Harvey Weinsteins.

So, according to Dr Rakoff feminism has never been about women’s individual choices. I had heard otherwise but perhaps that merely reflects my ignorance of modern feminism. As I said in a recent post, ‘I’m still holding on to the idea that “what a feminist looks like” can include what I see in the mirror. But it is getting harder.’

I would also like to know exactly who is included in the “all of us” she mentions as having some right to override an individual woman’s choice to be a lap dancer. All of humanity? Just the female half of it? Self-identified feminists? Or just those feminists who meet Dr Rakoff’s standard of feminism uninfected with neo-liberal selfishness?

The equal oppression of the laws

“… nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (14th amendment to the U.S. constitution)

Americans, especially right-wing ones, object if laws that protect them are applied unequally – if, for example, it is a crime for government emails to be held on private servers, but not when Hillary does it. But of course, right-wingers, especially American ones, believe that many laws don’t protect; they oppress. (And it is a point of honour in those who call themselves libertarians to believe that even more of the laws are like that.)

In the US, they seem to understand that these two beliefs support each other. The right dislike Obamacare – and were angry when Obama gave some Democrat constituencies waivers and deferrals when introducing it. No-one called them hypocrites for complaining about the unequal enforcement of a law they never wanted passed in the first place. Similarly, no-one seems to have missed the Logan Act during the centuries when it went unenforced, but did even the most fanatic NeverTrumper write “We should be above that” when Trump supporters pointed out that if the act was back in use then John Kerry should be prosecuted under it? Washington’s lobbyist class honours the Foreign Agents Registration Act far more in the breach than the observance, but the MSM seem keener to understate that fact than to denounce as hypocrites those right-wingers who say that now unregistered Republicans have been charged, prosecute some unregistered Democrats.

This attitude, I believe, extends to the first amendment. Legal exceptions to the first amendment (‘fighting words’, ‘clear and present danger’) are few, and the right wants it kept that way. But so long as those exceptions apply to them, the right also want them applied to any left-wing violator. They see that as defending free speech – not betraying it.

Here in Britain, by contrast, confusion reigns. Right-wing blogger Sargon of Akkad jokes about not offering violence to a left-wing politico – and the police visit him. Left-wing BBC comedian Jo Brand jokes about thowing acid rather than mikshake over Farage – and the police do not visit her. Whereupon Brendan O’Neill (who has written freedom-supporting articles in the past) writes in the Spectator (of which the same can be said) rebuking Mr Farage for suggesting that they should have.

(A PC gang once visited a pub where Nigel Farage, his wife and their children were dining, eager to cause harm. And he knows the drycleaning cost of getting mikshake off your suit. So I have a bit more sympathy for Nigel than for any other party leader, even Boris, when he yields to the temptation to wonder whether, despite Brand’s claims, it was not quite only a joke. But let us take it that it was just a joke.)

Brendan appears to be saying the true lover of free speech should not demand “the equal oppression of the laws”. Brendan wants an equal liberation from hate speech laws – Jo Brand must have the right to joke about throwing acid at Farage and Count Dankula must be free to film his dog doing a Nazi salute. I would like that too, but meanwhile,

“It is a settled rule with me to make the most of my actual situation, and not to refuse to do a proper thing because there is something else, more proper, which I am not able to do.” (Edmund Burke)

By criticising Nigel for resisting the double-standard (that Brendan also hates), Brendan implies that Farage’s demand for legal equality, not just Brand’s exploitation of left-wing privilege, is what stands in the way of that equal liberation. I think he is making a mistake – and confusing his mistake with the meaning of ‘free speech’.

I would much rather live in a Britain where neither Sargon nor Jo had a visit from the police – but I don’t. I’d criticise Farage if I thought Jo Brand dissapproved the police visiting Sargon – but I don’t (this pertinent hint merely confirms things I’ve heard her say). Unequal enforcement of the hate speech laws has been an essential part of maintaining them from the start. You don’t fight them by protecting that inequality. Free speech means the state shall not control what we may say. The state has yet more control when it does not just ban speech but bans it arbitrarily. So when people try to end that arbitrariness, they may not be failing to “disagree with what you say but defend your right to say it”, as Brendan claims; they may be defending free speech.

For clarity, let me illustrate with an example programme. Imagine (but don’t hold your breath for it) that PM Boris (radicalised by how he’s been treated, and heading a party purified by defections, internal deselections and/or external Brexit Party rivals) announces a bill to roll back the attack on free speech (e.g. repeal every such law since 9/11). However, he also announces that, while this bill slowly works its way towards the royal assent, his government, to protect equality before the law, will prosecute a backlog of unlawfully-suppressed cases from those years – remarks that were ever so woke, but were also hate speech as defined by the equitably-phrased laws, uttered by people who had also demanded the laws punish far less hateful remarks of their opponents.

– To Brendan (I would guess if I had only the Spectator article as my guide), these prosecutions would be no better than evil revenge, discrediting the cause and making the return of laws against ‘hate’ speech more likely.

– To me, they would be a good way of educating the public about what was wrong with those laws, and also a way to make the left think twice about reimposing them the moment they got back in power. But, beyond these tactical points, they would also uphold the principle of equality before the law.

We will not lack for mind-broadening frenemies to defend even after tolerating ‘equality before the law’ arguments against the loudest “I can say it but you can’t” enforcers of the double-standard. The woker-than-thou of today love purging the woke of yesterday – they will supply.

Equality before the law is good in itself. Demanding equality of oppression before the law is a way to expose a dishonest process. Think carefully before judging it a betrayal of our war against the hate speech laws’ evil goal, rather than a way – that can be both honest in itself and effective – of waging it.

Samizdata quote of the day

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

― Frédéric Bastiat, The Law

Just a periodic reminder from Frédéric 😉

Katie Jones is the face of the future

“That LinkedIn connection could be a spy using a fake, AI-generated face”, warns Raphael Satter of the Associated Press in the Tampa Bay Times.

LONDON — Katie Jones sure seemed plugged into the Washington’s political scene. The 30-something redhead boasted a job at a top think tank and a who’s-who network of pundits and experts, from the centrist Brookings Institution to the right-wing Heritage Foundation. She was connected to a deputy assistant secretary of state, a senior aide to a senator and the economist Paul Winfree, who is being considered for a seat on the Federal Reserve.

But Katie Jones doesn’t exist, the Associated Press has determined. Instead, the persona was part of a vast army of phantom profiles lurking on the professional networking site LinkedIn.

So what’s new? Haven’t the Russkies been stealing people’s photos for years and using them to illustrate fake profiles on sites like LinkedIn? They have, but on this occasion it seems that the one thing of which they were not guilty was identity theft:

Several experts contacted by the Associated Press said Jones’ profile picture appeared to have been created by a computer program.

“I’m convinced that it’s a fake face,” said Mario Klingemann, a German artist who has been experimenting for years with artificially generated portraits and says he has reviewed tens of thousands of such images. “It has all the hallmarks.”

Klingemann and other experts said the photo — a closely cropped portrait of a woman with blue-green eyes, copper-colored hair and an enigmatic smile — appeared to have been created using a family of dueling computer programs called generative adversarial networks, or GANs, that can create realistic-looking faces of entirely imaginary people. GANs, sometimes described as a form of artificial intelligence, have been the cause of increasing concern for policymakers already struggling to get a handle on digital disinformation.

Katie is telling us that the era of evidence is drawing to a close. What changes will this bring?

The inclusiveness of ‘You didn’t build that’

“You didn’t build that” (Obama)

If you’ve ever seen an episode of The Prisoner then you’ve seen Portmeiron, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis’ Italianate architectural fantasy on the Llyn peninsula in Wales. In politics, Sir Clough was sometimes less of an individual than in architecture – he could echo the fashionable leftisms of his set.

One day, the state noticed what he was achieving at Portmeiron and ‘gave’ it protected status. After that, anybody who wanted to do any more building there had to satisfy the bureaucrats. “I was rather surprised”, said Sir Clough, “to discover that ‘anybody’ included me.”

Recently, Nancy Bass Wyden, wife of Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat), had a similar experience in De Blasio’s New York. I wonder if she was similarly surprised when all her democratic party connections and all the 11,000 signatures on her petition against it did not prevent De Blasio adding one more bureau to the list of those who get to tell the increasingly-titular owner of the Landmarks bookstore what she can and cannot do. (And if you think none of these bureaucrats would notice if Landmarks ever seemed overeager to push an off-message book then I have a bridge in De Blasio’s New York that you can ‘own’ every bit as much as Nancy owns Landmarks.)

Ayn Rand’s architect hero in The Fountainhead has one solution for what to do when the state steals your building – blow it up – but I’ve always found that a bit negative. Trump has, I suppose, at least ensured that whatever excuse they ‘trump up’ to attack his buildings, it won’t be by declaring them much loved landmarks that must be preserved. But I’ve yet to think of a general solution. Buildings, alas, cannot vote with their feet.

Samizdata quote of the day

I’ve been pondering the Jo Brand acid “joke”. Sensible reaction: “Crap joke but just a joke, move along, nothing to see here.”

But maybe HMS Sensible had sailed, so perhaps every indignant reaction the Left has to jokes they dislike must be embraced & rammed down their throats as well. My strong preference is “For fuck sake, stop trying to get people fired over crap jokes, no matter how awful” and just apply that to everyone. But if that is not going to be an option, then perhaps we need to share the pain without mercy. The golden rule when people shoot at you is… shoot back

– Perry de Havilland

On this day in 1919…

John Alcock and Arthur Brown flew non-stop across the Atlantic in a modified Vickers Vimy, taking off in Newfoundland, Canada and making an incommodious but non-fatal landing in Connemara, Ireland.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Socialism always begins with a universal vision for the brotherhood of man and ends with people having to eat their own pets.”

– Toby Young, found via Guido Fawkes, who has video.